Lincoln Memorial University

Author and Activist Jim Emison to bring Elbert Williams' Story to LMU Law


Knoxville, Tennessee, August 21, 2018— The Lincoln Memorial University-Duncan School of Law (LMU Law) will welcome attorney, author and civil rights activist Jim Emison, Thursday and Friday, for a pair of events regarding his forthcoming book, Elbert Williams, First to Die.

LMU Law is partnering with Community Economic Development Network of East Tennessee (CEDnet), to present these events. East Tennessee Foundation, Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Knoxville Area Urban League are also lending support to the events.

Emison’s visit comes on the heels of 28th Judicial District Attorney Gary Brown reopening the investigation into the murder of black voter-registration activist Elbert Williams, whose body was found in Brownsville, Tennessee, more than 78 years ago.

Since his 2011 retirement, Emison has been investigating and has authored several articles on Williams’ murder with the full-length book that is forthcoming later this year. His articles are included in the Encyclopedia of African American History and on the National Civil Rights Museum website (

“Elbert Williams’ story is as American as the right to vote, and as southern as Jim Crow,” Emison said. “The story recounts the violent collision in June 1940, in Brownsville, Tennessee, of African-American aspirations to vote with white supremacist determination to preserve their lily white electorate by all means necessary, murder included.”

Emison’s research shows that before Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and James Chaney became martyrs in the Civil Rights movement, Elbert Williams was the first NAACP official in the nation to be murdered for his civil rights work. Yet few know Williams’ name, let alone his story.

Over 78 years since Williams’ death, Tennessee’s new Civil Rights Crimes Cold Case Law of 2018, which Governor Bill Haslam signed in May, has paved the way for further investigation. The law mandates a statewide survey of cold civil rights crimes and directs referral of viable cases for prosecution. Brown’s investigators plan to work with University of Tennessee forensic scientists to look for William’s grave.

“Elbert Williams’s place in civil rights history as the first known NAACP official murdered is an event of national historic importance,” Emison said. “The murder of Elbert Williams is a crime that screams for justice, which can only be achieved with the completion of an investigation which was abandoned long ago.”

LMU Law will host a reception in Emison’s honor from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, August 23. He will give a formal presentation with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit at noon on Friday, August 24. One general CLE credit is available during the program. The cost is $20 for attorneys or $15 for LMU Law alumni and includes a box lunch. The cost is $12 for the general public who would like a box lunch. It is free to attend the event without a boxed lunch for those who are not seeking CLE credit. To register, contact April Hurley at 865.545.5339 or email [email protected].

The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law is located in Knoxville’s Historic Old City Hall Building. LMU Law is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community, and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of lawyers to provide sound legal service in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond. For more information about LMU Law, call 865.545.5303 or visit us online at



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